Based on the manga…no, not that one.
Okano Yuichi lives with his elderly mother Mitsue and 20-something son Masaki in Nagasaki. His day job is…selling…advertisement space or something, but he prefers to draw manga, play guitar, and occasionally look at porno magazines. He refers to himself as Pecoross due to his head looking like an onion. After Yuichi’s father Satoru died, Mitsue started to get dementia. As a result, her short-term memory was pretty much shot, she would mix up Masaki with Yuichi, she would believe that she was living through past episodes of her life, and she would frequently forget that important people from her past (especially Satoru) had died.
One day, Yuichi is…performing a song in a restaurant (and probably ditching work to do so) when he gets a call from Mitsue, asking him about sewage workers. He yells at her that it is another scam. The customers, who had previously not really paying attention to him, start laughing and clapping when he loses it. Perhaps they believe that it is part of the performance, but it ultimately does not matter.
Mitsue is at home, looking out the window, when the phone rings. It is me. Me who? Masaki? Yeah, that must be who it is. Well, he got into a car accident and needs money. She leaves to get some money without hanging up, but is so upset that she has to blow her nose. It is unclear how much time has passed when the real Masaki returns home, but by that time, Mitsue has forgotten about the call.
When Yuichi returns home, he hangs up the phone and scolds Mitsue about leaving it off. Immediately after Yuichi goes to the bathroom, the phone rings and Mitsue picks it up. It is the same car accidents scammer saying the same thing as before. And again, Mitsue leaves without hanging up.
As Yuichi is leaving for…work…he tells Mitsue to chase off any scammer. Mitsue insists that she knows, but Yuichi scoffs. Mitsue warns him that he should not shout or the calling monster will come. The…calling monster? That is something that scared Yuichi when he was a little kid, but he is around 60 or something now.
An elderly man arrives at the house, opening the door that was apparently unlocked. Mitsue tells him that she does not want whatever he is selling. He says okay and turns to leave before remembering that he was here to pay respects to his brother Satoru by burning some incense sticks by his altar. Now Mitsue remembers; it’s Shiro. She goes to get some snacks for him while he says some prayers. Of course, by the time that she has put together the tea and cookies, she has totally forgotten about Shiro, finishing the snacks herself. She walks towards the bathroom, and screams as she sees Shiro, who had fallen asleep. They both quickly recover and repeat some of the conversation that they had had earlier. It is unclear whether the go through this a third time.
Yuichi is practicing music…somewhere…when he gets a call from work. He claims to be visiting businesses, and…I guess that the boss has no immediate way to disprove his obvious lies, so he just hangs up on Yuichi.
Masaki is riding on his motorcycle when he sees Mitsue walking to…go buy sake for Satoru. Masaki has to remind her that Satoru has been dead for over ten years and Mitsue tried to roll with it as if that were a minor detail that slipped her mind. He asks whether she meant sake for the altar and she nods. They go back to the house and Masaki tells Mitsue to stay in the house. She agrees, but pretty much leaves immediately after he rides away. She walks over to the “Okano” parking space and sits behind it.
In what I guess is an attempt to actually do his job, Yuichi is at a restaurant, begging his friend, the owner to put an ad in his…thing. The owner is reluctant, having done so before with not much to show from it. But Yuichi is desperate, having not sold any that week. Perhaps his ditching work to play guitar in the middle of nowhere played a role. The owner agrees to a small ad out of pity. He gets a call from Masaki, who dismisses his claim that he is at work. Anyways, Masaki tells him about Mitsue going out to buy sake for Satoru. Since he is working late, Masaki asks Yuichi to go home early.
This sake purchasing troubles Yuichi. He tells the restaurant owner about his mother’s dementia, about how she talks only about her past. He also asks about the calling monster, which the restaurant owner remembers his mother telling him as well when he was a kid. He asks one of his young employees if he knows the calling monster. He does not. This does not surprise Yuichi. He pays for his meal and goes to work.
This was one of the few shots that showed both of their faces and not the magazine.
So…this is probably the only scene that takes place in Yuichi’s office. He comes in in the middle of the day, so everyone stares at him. The boss, who looks like the only one who is not significantly younger than Yuichi, asks how things are out there. Yuichi says that everyone is struggling. He says that he skipped lunch to go around asking businesses, which at least one co-worker seems to know is a lie. When asked how many ads he got, he says zero. Not even the restaurant? The boss asks him if he was dodging work, and he says no. And then Yuichi…says that he has to…leave. So he leaves. Not even fifty seconds at the office.
Yuichi is driving home in the dark, stewing over a childhood memory of when Mitsue scolded him for yelling into a fan. He asked where his father was and she told him that he would be late. She then warned young Yuichi that the calling monster would come if he did not go to sleep. She made a big deal out of it, genuinely scaring him.
Yuichi is still thinking about it when he backs into his parking space and almost hits Mitsue, who had been sitting there all day. She is happy to see him, completely oblivious of the danger. Yuichi is upset, but tries to calm down as they walk back home.
Yuichi tucks in Mitsue and lies around until Masaki returns with some box dinner. Masaki asks about her and Yuichi tells him about the parking incident. Masaki wonders whether her condition is worsening, and Yuichi agrees. Masaki says that nursing a parent is tough for a widower, one of two times in the movie where Masaki’s mother is almost mentioned. Yuichi knows what Masaki is thinking, but argues that he cannot put her in a care home. It is clear, though, that that is just a knee-jerk response that he does not really mean. Masaki says that she may need professional care, which is enough for Yuichi to give in. And with that, it is time to eat. And for Yuichi to bring up the issue of Mitsue’s under disappearing all the time, leading them to jokingly accuse each other of stealing it. Wonderful father-son talk and dinnertime discussion.
Yuichi starts making a comic about one of his mother’s childhood memories. Mitsue is in her childhood home teaching her sister Takayo the song that she and her friend Chieko had overheard a group of schoolgirls practicing in a church. Speaking of Chieko, she arrives as they are singing and sings along. Chieko, or Chi-chan, asks Mitsue why she is not working in the field with her other siblings. Mitsue tells her that Takayo got sick and Mitsue has to take care of her. Chi-chan says that she envy’s Mitsue’s big family, but Mitsue tells her that their mother had too many children. Mitsue, as the oldest of ten, has to take care of them instead of attending school. Mitsue says that she wishes that she could go to Nagasaki like Chi-chan. Chi-chan tells her that it was not really a choice, as she was sold. Mitsue argues that she can wear nice a kimono now, and she promises to visit Nagasaki one day. And, of course, they pinky swear to write to each other in the meantime. Yuuichi stops. He cannot remember what his mother said about Chieko after that. Did I mention that that episode took place in 1943? Well, it did. After Yuuichi falls asleep, Mitsue gets up to write Chi-chan a letter.
Yuichi is about to drive off to…work…when he overhears young girl talking to her friends about the granny monster being taken away by the onion monster. Not…the best thing to hear about oneself in the morning.
It is night time and Yuichi sees Mitsue in his parking space again, despite having told her to stay inside the house. He scolds her again and she promises not to do it again. She asks if he is mad and he denies it. She asks again, just to get a reaction.
Yuichi notices some piece of clothing sticking out of one of the drawers. He pulls it out. Dirty underpants. He opens the drawer and out pops a pile of Mitsue’s dirty underpants. Yuichi is practically traumatized. Masaki finds his father’s behavior amusing, until he also sees the underwear. This is the last straw.
The next day, Yuichi talks about the underwear hiding with Mitsue’s care manager, who recommends that Mitsue go to a care home.
Yuichi goes to the restaurant and looks over some of the care home literature. The owner notices him and goes over. He disapproves of Yuichi ditching his mother like that, but Yuichi retorts that he does not have the luxury of dumping all of the responsibilities on his wife like a certain someone else does. He worries that she might start a fire or something if she continues to be left home alone. The owner apologizes.
Yuichi and Masaki go to check out the care home. Things look…okay. Masaki introduces himself as Okano, who had called the other day. Three of the workers come over and…uh…bring Yuichi to his room. He protests, but they tell him not to worry. Masaki is loving this.
Despite that awkward introduction, Yuichi and Masaki return to the care home with Mitsue, the things that they packed for her, and a wheelchair. The staff and the seniors are gathered together singing a song. Masaki says that the place seems fun, but Mitsue covers her ears and tells him (calling him Yuuichi) that she wants to go home. A staff member guides them to Mitsue’s room.
After letting the staff member introduce Mitsue to the surroundings and the people there for a bit, Yuichi and Masaki bid farewell. Of course, Mitsue thinks that she is going as well, and does not understand why they are leaving without her. While the staff members put on big smiles as they wave goodbye, Yuichi cannot help feeling gloomy as he drives off. He looks in the rearview mirror so much that Masaki has to remind him to watch the road.
Mitsue sits on her new bed, singing to herself and looking at the part of the window that is boarded up to turn it into sort of a mirror. A staff member hears her singing and asks her if she wants to sing with the others. Mitsue declines, saying that she will wait for her son here. The staff member suggests maybe drawing, but Mitsue does not want to do anything. She goes back to singing and the staff members leaves the room, closing the door behind her.
This movie is based on a manga by…uh…Okano Yuichi. Oh…so, it is at least partly based on real life. I guess. Director Morisaki Azuma was around 85 years old at the time, and most likely knew of people who were going through what Mitsue was going through. Maybe even a little himself, though I don’t know either way. This would be the last movie that he would make and the last movie that Akagi Harue, who played Mitsue, would be in. He died in 2020 at the age of 92 and she died in 2018 at the age of 94.
There are three points of focus in this movie, Yuichi, Mitsue, and their relationship. I suppose that I should start with Yuichi, who is the reason why this movie got made in the first place. If the movie adheres closely to the manga, then Yuichi does not let himself off the hook. It is unclear exactly what age he is at the start of the movie, but he is nearing retirement age. That may be why he is so ridiculously cavalier about his work. Whether he gets fired before he can retire, it matters little to him. His real passion is performing music for people…which…he is okay at. And drawing comics, of course. And then, there is casually looking at porno magazines at his friend’s restaurant right out in the open. He is not a bad person, of course, and he does what he can for his aging mother. These flaws of his are more sources of humor in the movie than anything else. How true to life is the depiction? I have no idea; the real guy could be an utter scumbag for all I know.
It is not really confirmed, but I would imagine that Yuichi’s lax attitude towards his work comes from his father. While Yuichi main description of his late father is jittery, it is clear later on in the movie that his father was a real jerk. He was a workaholic and an alcoholic. He was not all around terrible, but he could be pretty terrible. Perhaps the only reason that Mitsue could withstand his abuse was that she was actually physically stronger than he was, which must have just reinforced his resentment. And even with all of his hard work, he was constantly on the run from creditors. As an adult, Yuichi musts have worked hard to gain a comfortable life, but once he attained that, he could pretty much coast. You know what? Why not?
Yuichi describes his mother as strong, and she would have to be. The oldest of ten kids, Mitsue had to take care of them as well as work in the field instead of going to school. She not only grew up during World War II, but saw the A-bombing of Nagasaki from her house. Family members died when she was young and so did friends. We do not see how she met and married Satoru, but it is clear that life with him had been difficult. All in all, it seems like Yuichi was a normal kid, not great, but not terrible. The beginning of the movie seems to imply that there was a second kid, but there is no mention after that. Whether the manga or real life has an explanation, that child is no longer in Mitsue’s present life. For sure, she loved Yuichi, but was that always enough?
There narrative gaps between Mitsue’s childhood, her times with young Yuichi, and the present. That separates her life into three general sections. Her childhood was one of big family, where she somehow had to take on a sort of mother role even at a young age. There is only one scene in the movie that shows a slice of Mitsue’s life with Satoru before the arrival of Yuichi. It lasts less than two minutes and is immediately followed up by a scene with baby Yuichi. This implies that the of her life between her role as pseudo-mother to her siblings and actual mother to Yuichi was short. And, while we ultimately see only four of her nine siblings in the movie (and not all at once), there is still a sense that the scope of her family has shrunken.
Now that dementia is taking hold of her, it becomes more difficult to process what is going on at any moment. It is unclear whether she has ever acknowledged what is happening to her, but I guess that it does not really matter if she is just going to forget that she did. Her memories of the past seem rather clear (if a little low budget and with a somewhat unexpected casting choice towards the end), but the specific memories that she acts out tend to be positive ones, or at least neutral ones that paper over their negative aspects. She does not remember Satoru as a drunk, but she does know to buy sake for him. She talks of interacting with people long since dead. She thinks of Yuichi as a child or a young adult at oldest. At least it is not from the bad parts of her life, of which there are plenty. Mitsue does seem to respond with acknowledgement when someone points out that what she said is not so, but there are those instances between her hearing and her supposedly coming back to reality where it must be overwhelming. Of course not. Of course, she did not mean it that way. Does she simply snap out of it or is she just saying that so that they will stop looking at her like that? Did she always know in the back of her mind? Of course, it is not that simple. Her memory lapses and recreations of her past in the present are played for laughs, but there is some sadness behind it. But at least she does not reenact unpleasant memories. She can hold on to the good parts of her life. Perhaps the forgetting allows for selective memories to let her cope, while the focus on certain memories help her forget.
With Satoru’s acting more as an agent of chaos when he was not outright absent, it was up to Mitsue to take care of Yuichi. And, as the decades pass, the roles become reversed. Traditionally, it would be Yuichi’s wife who would take care of Mitsue, but the movie claims that she died, perhaps long ago. I was unable to find the actual information regarding what happened. We get only the vaguest of hints of what Satoru was like as an older man and grandfather. With him having died ten years before the main story begins, the movie frames Mitsue and Yuichi as a team of two, who pretty much have only themselves. I am sure that Masaki (whose childhood is only hinted at) may resent this at times, but he must be used to it by now.
Despite it not really being part of his traditional duties, Yuichi does not necessarily resent having to take care of his mother. Still, it certainly gets in the way of his…uh…well, not so much his work, but his hobbies, then. And it has gotten a bit much as of late. On the other hand, she had taken care of him for all of those years; he owes it to her. She is his mother. When his friend tsks tsks him for trying to abandon her at a care home, it is nothing that Yuichi had not said to himself already. Regardless, he feels shame for having abandoned her.
Yet, it turns out that he does not really do that. First off, the care home seems like a nice place staffed by caring (and very tolerant) professionals. But, more importantly, Yuichi comes by to visit a lot. He sometimes accompanies the group on trips and sometimes takes Mitsue out on his own. He also invites a couple of her surviving siblings to visit a couple of times. These are hardly huge things. However, the movie implies that Yuichi is one of the few people to visit their parents even semi-regularly. So, Yuichi remains a good son, regardless of what wider society may think. Of course, Mitsue disapproves of being sent here. But she either comes around, or her mind is able to incorporate it into her sense of normality. Thus, their relationship, while significantly altered, can continue.
I don’t know whether this movie portrays dementia accurately. Nor do I know how accurate it is to the real-life story or people. Regardless, both sad and humorous, this gentle movie shows that dementia, while difficult for everyone, may not be the end of the world. As someone with parents who may be on the cusp of starting to experiencing the early stages of it, this message may be something that I may need return to in a few years. I like it.
WTF ASIA 164: Your Name Engraved Herein (Taiwan: 2020, approx. 115 minutes)
WTF ASIA 165: Bedevilled (South Korea: 2010, approx. 115-117 minutes)